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One has only to look at the AREAA (Asian Real Estate Association of America) 2017-18 report, State of Asia America, to see evidence of the strong diversity within the Asian American community. According to the report, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is the fastest growing demographic in the United States, both in terms of natural born citizens and immigrants. Six ethnic groups within the Asian community number over one million each and over eight million people in the US speak either Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean or Hindi. These numbers are perhaps one reason the film Crazy Rich Asians coming to theaters this coming Wednesday, August 15th is generating tons of breathless excitement.
Historically, Asians in major Hollywood films have been either depicted by white actors or have been portrayed in a stereotypical and often an unflattering comedic light. Or sometimes both. Take Mickey Rooney as Audrey Hepburn’s upstairs landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany’s for example. Complete with a horrifyingly over-the-top cliched accent, this role is probably one of the more famous examples of this phenomenon.
Even when Asians depicted in film and television excel whether through martial arts prowess, or as successful doctors, it’s often in one-sided ways and gives an impression that Asians share umbrella characteristics; not accounting for the sheer diversity within Asian communities and the differences between American born people of Asian descent, and the different countries and cultures that form Asian communities as a whole.
So, why does a lighthearted rom-com about a young fiancee meeting her husband-to-be’s parents hold so much weight? Following social media commentary op-eds and first-hand accounts, it features a diverse all-Asian cast and portrays Asian characters in ways not typically seen in the media.
From the trailer, we gather the main character Rachel (Constance Wu) is an American-born woman of Chinese descent sometimes unfamiliar with traditional aspects of Chinese culture. The “crazy rich” part of the title refers to Rachel’s humorous encounter with her fiance’s wealthy family abroad.
Based on a best-selling novel by Singapore-born Kevin Kwan, and directed by John M. Chu, in a similar fashion to ‘Black Panther’, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is seen as a watershed moment indicative of an awakening to the influence and impact of a loose group of distinct cultures who hold economic and cultural heft in our society. It’s a move that’s long overdue and shouldn’t be a one-off.
If the movie doesn’t do well as predicted, the movement to continue to showcase Asians and Asian-Americans often and in ways fully reflective of diversity should move forward. After all, if there is one thing that is a stereotype of all humans it’s the ability to fail. But we certainly hope it doesn’t!